Are you an African or an African’t?

If you suddenly became unemployed, are you creative and bold enough to make a living? As opposed to moving back to your parents house and sending out endless job applications – as I probably would be doing.
Recently a friend from high school asked me when I would be returning home to Ghana after a 10 year absence. I fumbled my response around needing to find the right time, the right job… He said, “do you need to look for a job? Why not start your own thing?”

I didn’t know how to answer that. The thought had never crossed my mind. I never saw myself as a start-your-own-thing kind of person. I don’t have an MBA; I’m not a risk taker; I can’t deal with uncertainty; I don’t have business chops… I could go on with my weak excuses. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was also a product of a system and a mentality that I’ve been criticizing: a system that produces graduates who are not self starters or entrepreneurial but woefully dependent on being employed.

We often hear stories about successful entrepreneurs who started with no money, no college degree, just a laptop, an idea and a passion. This tells me that there must be opportunities for intelligent, creative, open minded and driven individuals. These opportunities are there for the taking especially in African cities with a growing middle class.

A growing African middle class presents ample opportunities for self starters.

The middle class want convenience and are willing to pay a premium for that. I normally do not do much online shopping but after having a baby, I was thrilled to discover that I could order groceries online (in Joburg) and have fresh produce delivered to my house. Herein lies an opportunity to set up delivery services, one suburb at a time, in places where these do not exist. Or how about setting up a business that prepares and delivers healthy meals to the health conscious professional? In fact, for a period of time, I had such a delivery service. Check out A hint: you can get your grandmother to do the cooking 😉.

How about offering tutoring services? Check with your friends who have children; they may very well pay you to tutor their kids. Maybe set up an online dating service in your city. Why not?? You don’t see too many of those in Africa. Maybe you like to work out. You could offer a personal training session in the comfort of your clients home – celebrity style. Or maybe teach yoga in your home? 

A friend of mine learned how to make ice cream and sold ice cream at a Johannesburg farmers market on weekends – this was just a side gig; she is a Harvard graduate and had a serious full time job (check out my short video Ice cream: Breakfast of Champions with her in action at the farmers market). 

In a future blog, I will profile another friend of mine who’s looking to make a difference in the solar energy space in an environment where power outages are rampant. There’s yet another friend who quit his consulting job and set up a school in Johannesburg within a year. By the way, the appetite for good private schools in Africa is huge!

A good approach is to look at your community and figure out what the gaps are. My friend, Michael, likes to say, every problem is an opportunity. And boy do we have problems on the continent! I think the biggest obstacle is mindset. We are caught up in the 9-5 office job set up. Anything else seems too informal. I myself will be taking up the entrepreneurial challenge of making and selling Ghanaian chocolate (see my blog “raising the bar”) in the near future.

Is this easier said than done? Do you have other ideas? Let’s talk about it.

Peace and love

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